This week I wanted to dive into another face commander from Commander 2021 — Breena, the Demagogue, from the appropriately named Silverquill Statement deck.
If you’ve seen Breena out in the wild of Commander tables near you, you’ll know that it does indeed make a statement, which isn’t surprising given StarCityGames.com’s very own Sheldon Menery had a hand in creating the deck during his stint on Magic’s Vision Design team. If you haven’t read about his adventures inside Wizards of the Coast (WotC) — Sharper Style, Sharper Wit: Studying Silverquill’s Impact on Commander — be sure you check it out!
Now Breena looks like a relatively simple design as a three-mana 1/3 Bird Warlock with flying and a one-sentence rules text. But there’s a lot going on there, so let’s take a look at the Release Notes regarding the card:
Breena’s triggered ability will trigger even if you control no creatures.
You choose which creature to put +1/+1 counters on as the ability is resolving. Once you make the choice, no player may take actions until the counters are placed.
That first sentence from the perspective of Breena’s controller helps boil down what can be a little confusing when trying to suss out who can attack which player to get the benefit from Breena’s trigger. When watching Breena being played, the controller will often just explain the situation during each player’s turn since life totals can change and where you can attack with benefit is fluid. As an opponent from the Breena player, I’ve found it useful to just mentally walk carefully through the text box each turn. I imagine as time goes on, we’ll all get more used to playing with and against Breena, but there aren’t many cards out there like it.
The second sentence is a little weird, but it’s there to clarify once the trigger goes on the stack it’ll resolve even if your creatures get killed, bounced, or exiled at instant speed.
That last sentence really improves the ability since no one has a chance to “fizzle” the effect by killing the creature you’re going to put the counters on. They need to choose what creature to kill before the ability resolves and, assuming you still have another creature out there, you can put the +1/+1 counters on it.
I’d like to make a general point about playing Breena before we dig into the details. The first few times I saw Breena played, it got cast early on and people were quick to take advantage of the ability to draw extra cards. But then a funny thing happened: the controller kept putting +1/+1 counters on Breena, and by the time the turn came back around it had gone from one to seven power. The game quickly had to shift into “One of us is going to die quickly, so can anyone kill Breena?”
I personally trained just about every stitch of pinpoint removal I could draw to keep Breena off the battlefield, and it made both me and my opponent frustrated. Afterwards, I wondered, “Is Breena just too busted as a commander?” The answer of course is no: you just have to play it differently. I feel that the best way to play Breena is to spread your +1/+1 counters around to other creatures, and if one of them starts to get threatening and eats a removal spell, well, you’ve still got little 1/3 Breena out there handing out benefits for attacking your opponents. Which means, to my mind, you probably don’t run Breena onto the battlefield until you’ve deployed a few other creatures first.
With that, let’s dig into what cards are going to work well either inside a Breena commander deck or alongside Breena in the 99!
What immediately springs to mind is that Breena’s ability works great with creatures that already have +1/+1 counters, and the most iconic bunch of creatures with +1/+1 counters are those with the modular ability. These are particularly nice since if one of them suffers an untimely death, you may transfer its counters to another artifact creature. This is awesome if you want to build one huge artifact monster but don’t want to lose everything to a Naturalize. Arcbound Crusher is a great target for Breena due to its inherent trample ability.
Outside of modular artifact creatures, the pool of creatures that enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters or can add them to themselves is deep and wide. WotC seems to go to this well with every expansion set with no slowdown in sight, and you build lots of different approaches and color combinations. Even with Breena as your commander and limited to just two colors, there are going to be good creatures that don’t make the cut because there are just not enough card slots to handle them all.
In the list above I tried to illustrate what I think are some of the best choices, but make sure you explore your favorite card database and see what jumps out at you. I particularly like the creatures with outlast from the Khans of Tarkir block that provide abilities to each of your creatures with +1/+1 counters like Abzan Falconer and Mer-Ek Nightblade.
If your deck cares about +1/+1 counters you can dig into cards that care about them. Many of them can be found in the Silverquill Statement precon, including one of my favorites: Fain, the Broker. Fain can cash in some of those +1/+1 counters for Treasure tokens since extra mana is always welcome. The backside of Shaile, Dean of Radiance, Embrose, Dean of Shadow is a great way to ensure that you recoup your card investment when the inevitable battlefield sweeper kills all the creatures you’ve been adding +1/+1 counters to.
If your deck is diving heavily into +1/+1 counters, don’t miss out on cards with the ability to proliferate. Grateful Apparition is a wispy little 1/1 Spirit with flying, but if it gets two +1/+1 counters from Breena and attacks unblocked as a 3/3 it’ll grow into a 4/4 along with whatever other creatures with counters on it you want to grow too.
Keeping track of mountains of +1/+1 counters can be rather tedious, so if you’d rather not go down that rabbit hole, why not just use Breena’s ability to boost the size of something that has indestructible? That makes it much more resilient to battlefield sweepers and any destroy effects.
Another option is to put those +1/+1 counters on creatures that have double strike, effectively doubling the effectiveness of each trigger. Solemn Recruit and Fabled Hero start out small as 2/2 creatures that deal two points of first strike and two points of regular damage, but what if we triple that? Quadruple that? Soon enough you’ve got some real damage on your hands, and when an opponent pulls the trigger on a removal spell, it won’t be aimed at Breena.
Okay, we’ve talked about what we might want to do with our Breena triggers, so let’s turn our attention to making sure Breena triggers early and often! Your opponents will be savvy enough to know that those +1/+1 counters you’re piling up somewhere are going to be trouble eventually, but if we strongly suggest it would be bad to attack you directly, that extra card draw benefit will look all the sweeter. The new enchantment Cunning Rhetoric – also found in the Silverquill Statement deck – is an incredible rattlesnake card because who wants to give you cards from their own deck to play against them? Even if you only give them a land, that’s another land drop they’re ensured to make.
Outside of cards that punish opponents for attacking us, why not dig into cards that sweeten the pot—not only do they get to draw a card from Breena, but they get some other bonus effect. Orzhov Advokist is the perfect card for this because they’ll be able to grow one of their own creatures with +1/+1 counters too – kind of keeping up with your own +1/+1 counters – so why not go ahead and snag a card too?
Of course, sometimes you’ve got to take things into your own hands and force your opponents to attack someone other than yourself, and the relatively new goad mechanic is the perfect blunt instrument to do this. If you have access to blue, I really like the new card Sly Instigator since you can choose your target to meet the situation—target something huge to take out a player before they can go off and win, or just force something small to get into the fray so you get your Breena trigger.
Cards with monarch are incredible in Commander, but they might seem a little counterintuitive alongside Breena. Hear me out though: once someone has taken the monarch from you, your opponents will be extra-motivated to attack and steal from each other, potentially getting a draw from Breena on the way to getting that sweet extra card during their end step as the monarch. And if you happen to have built up a solid way to defend yourself, why not enjoy the monarch a few turns to recoup some card draw for yourself. Which actually leads me to my final thought…
There’s a subtle cost to Breena’s ability that’s right there in front of your nose if you think about it: your opponents are going to draw a lot of cards from Breena over the course of a game, and eventually those resources will be used against you and you’ll need your own resources to defend yourself. You’ll want to be taking advantage of your own card draw ability outside of the cards you yourself draw from attacking with Breena on the battlefield.
I’d like to call out cards like Wretched Confluence, which I saw used masterfully this past weekend by Nick from Scrap Trawlers, a budget-friendly Commander streaming and video series. Nick was piloting his Breena deck and used one of the Wretched Confluence modes to let an opponent draw a card which dropped them just low enough to be a target for attacks with Breena benefits. A very cool interaction led to a really sweet play, so keep an eye out for stuff like that.
What do you think? Are there any other cards you think would play great alongside Breena, the Demagogue?
Oh, if you’re looking for a decklist built around Breena, be sure to check out Sheldon’s article When Logan Built a Breena Deck for Me. It’s a fantastic read and Logan has some real spice in there to check out!
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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
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